Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman are considered exceedingly clever and bright by those who set the smart style in thinking, writing and acting. Their success as playwrights, both as a team and as individals has been almost uncannily consistent. Last Saturday night the town’s literati, and those who pay their way headed towards the Music Box to see “Merrily We Roll Along” and incidentally to find out what this team was up to. It had been rumored that the boys had forsaken satirical comedy and were about to give New York some Drama. This reviewer who was an evening early, but found the proceedings in full swing must report that the rumor was not without some basis of truth. There is drama at the Music Box, but the word must be prefixed by “melo.”
Perhaps I expected too much, but to me “Merrily We Roll Along” was mounted on flat wheels. It is the story, told in reverse (the first scene takes place in 1934 and the last scene in 1916), of the career of a now very successful playwright. It seems that he started life filled with ideals, which remain obscure, to write “good” plays and ended up by casting aside all his old friends. All he got for his pains was a fortune and the attention of everyone of importance in the theatrical world. Naturally he was very unhappy because he had given up the chance of “Doing plays that nobody would come to see.” A nice starving existence in some air-cooled attic.
By showing the last scene first and gradually working back to the playwright’s valedictory address at college, the authors are able to show how circumstances changed this idealistic youth into a very successful writer of light plays. In the procession the gradual degradation of the other characters, of whom there are countless numbers, are also traced.
Hart and Kaufman, as I mentioned above, are very clever and witty persons. Sometimes they are very cruel and in “Merrily” they have not spared anyone. If you have only a slight acquaintance with the careers of some of our better publicized writers, actors and musicians, you will be able to recognize their counterparts in this play.
Very well directed and staged “Merrily” contains many enjoyable and laugh-provoking moments and there are also some touching scenes which remind one of Elmer Rice in some of his less propagandizing moods. The acting is excellent throughout, especially that of Mary Philips as the girl who drinks to drown her unrequited love; Kenneth MacKenna, as Nils, the playwright; Jessie Royce Landis, the actress who is finally cast aside by the playwright; Walter Abels as the irresponsible radical painter who tries to save Niles from the curse of riches and Adrienne Marden as the first wife who drives the harassed Niles to wealth and is divorced for her pains. In fact, these players are far superior to anything I have seen thus far this season.
Usually a reviewer attempts to get his review itno his paper as soon as he can. He fears that before his typewriter words become print the play will have closed, but in the case of “Merrily We Roll Along” I had no such worry. It is a play that is going to have a lengthy run. It cannot miss. Bitter, revealing, pointed, yet is offends only those who are more clever than we are. That it is intellectually dishonest is unimportant. People who pride themselves on their material success are comfortably moved at the spectacle of actors ranting about lost ideals, these are such uncertain thingsâ€”so indefinable and so safe to talk about!
P. S.â€”It is said and on good authority, that one of our larger moving picture companies has already offered a sum in excess of $100,000 for the cinema rights. There should be some moral in that!